President-Elect Barack Obama on No Child Left Behind

During the presidential campaign, FairTest paid close attention to the candidates whenever they addressed No Child Left Behind. It will be some time before President-Elect Barack Obama takes action that will flesh out the mostly vague statements he made while campaigning, and even longer before anything specific happens with the federal education law. In the meantime, here is a compilation of his comments on NCLB from his web site and the campaign trail.

The Obama-Biden ticket’s policy statement on K-12 education put NCLB reform at the top of the agenda:


Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe that the overall goal of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is the right one – ensuring that all children can meet high standards – but the law has significant flaws that need to be addressed. They believe it was wrong to force teachers, principals and schools to accomplish the goals of No Child Left Behind without the necessary resources. We have failed to provide high-quality teachers in every classroom and failed to support and pay for those teachers. Barack Obama and Joe Biden understand that

NCLB has demoralized our educators, broken its promise to our children and must be changed in a fundamental way.

* Improve Assessments: Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe we should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests. They will improve the assessments used to track student progress. They will work to create assessment models that provide educators and students with timely feedback about how to improve student learning, that measure readiness for college and success in an information-age workplace; and that indicate whether individual students are making progress toward reaching high standards. This will include funds for states to implement a broader range of assessments that can evaluate higher-order skills, including students’ abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, solve problems, present and defend their ideas. These assessments will provide immediate feedback so that teachers can begin improving student learning right away.

* Improve Accountability System: Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe we need an accountability system that supports schools to improve, rather than focuses on punishments. They also believe schools should assess all of our children appropriately – including English language learners and special needs students. Such a system should evaluate continuous progress for students and schools all along the learning continuum and should consider measures beyond reading and math tests. It should also create incentives to keep students in school through graduation, rather than pushing them out to make scores look better.”

On the campaign trail, Obama spoke at a school in Colorado, Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts (MESA), which uses art instruction to support student learning in other subjects. Obama devoted a significant portion of his comments to NCLB and used the event to distinguish his views on the law from those of Senator McCain. Here is what he said:

“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with No Child Left Behind. Forcing our teachers, our principals and our schools to accomplish all of this without the resources they need is wrong. Promising high-quality teachers in every classroom and then leaving the support and the pay for those teachers behind is wrong. Labeling a school and its students as failures one day and then throwing your hands up and walking away from them the next is wrong.

“We must fix the failures of No Child Left Behind. We must provide the funding we were promised, give our states the resources they need and finally meet our commitment to special education. We also need to realize that we can meet high standards without forcing teachers and students to spend most of the year preparing for a single, high-stakes test…

“As president, I will work with our nation’s governors and educators to create and use assessments that can improve achievement all across America by including the kinds of research, scientific investigation and problem-solving that our children will need to compete in a 21st century knowledge economy. The tests our children take should support learning not just accounting. If we really want our children to become the great inventors and problem-solvers of tomorrow, our schools shouldn’t stifle innovation, they should let it thrive.”

In a speech to the National Education Association, Mr. Obama called No Child Left Behind “one of the emptiest slogans in the history of American politics.”

On Sept. 5, 2008, in Pennsylvania, he said, “Math and science are not the opposite of art and music. Those things are compatible and we want kids to get a well-rounded education. Part of the problem we’ve had is that ‘No Child Left Behind,’ the law that was passed by Bush, said we want high standards, which is good, but they said we are going to measure those high standards only by a single high stakes standardized test that we are going to apply during the middle of the school year…a whole bunch of schools said we gotta teach to this test, and art and music isn’t tested… It’s a shame.”

One of Obama’s key education advisors is Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, with whom FairTest has worked often. She is also a convener of the Forum on Education and Democracy, which promotes progressive education, including a reduction in the amount and weight of standardized testing.

Obama’s website is –